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Last Updated Sunday 20th October 2013

Gateshead 52

Gateshead 52 is prepared for movement in the 1970s.
Photo: John Henderson

Gateshead 52; originally number 7, was amongst one of the originally electric tramcars used by Gateshead & District Tramways to replace the Steam Trams. Built in 1901 by the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works in Preston, it was one of a batch of 4 wheeled, two side windowed, clerestory roofed "California" style single decked tramcars used initially exclusively on the Bensham route. About two years later, the open ends compartments became enclosed. It was not one of the 4 trams in the batch, rebuilt to Pay-as-you-enter in 1912. Number 7 sadly was involved in a runaway accident on Bensham Bank on Saturday 5th February 1916. The incident developed when 7 was waiting at the last loop on Saltwell Road for the tram journeying towards Bensham. When it did not arrive, the young Motorman drove onto Bensham Road; a steep upward bank travelling to the next loop outside the Ravensworth Hotel. It is alleged an incident transpired on the other tram seen by its lights in the distance, so number 7's Motorman left his tram and went uphill to assist. Further passengers boarded 7 and the brakes failed to hold the tram. It travelled gathering steep back down Bensham Bank and came off the tracks at the curve at the hill bottom and overturned. 4 pedestrians were killed by the out of control tram and 9 passengers and the conductress were injured.

The tram was removed back to Sunderland Road Depot, and subsequently in 1920 was used as the basis of a new tram constructed in their own workshops. Very little of the original tram was retained apart from the underframe, controllers, motors and the Brill 6 foot truck. The 4 windowed California style tram was now an unvestibuled eight window vehicle with window quarter lights and a shallow domed roof. The saloon was equally divided into two with a centre bulkhead. The saloons were to divide smokers from non smokers. The beautiful roof was not hidden by advert boards until the mid thirties and kept its fleet number 7. Advert boards were added in 1936 and in 1938 it was renumbered 52. In 1937, the 6 foot Brill truck was replaced by one of 8 foot wheelbase, so briefly operated as 7 with this running unit. Just before the war, it received a semi vestibule forming windscreens; with an open side.

During the war, 52 gave continuous service, still sporting its 1938 fully lined out livery, but with white bumpers and headlight masks. After the war, it continued in service looking increasingly shabby. In 1950, it received a very basic repaint completely unlined. In this condition 52 continued to serve mainly the Teams route, but still occasionally would supplement cars on the Dunston and Bensham routes. It was only when serving these two latter routes, did 52 go beyond its normal Gateshead Station terminus, travelling over the High Level Bridge to Newcastle Central Station.

When the tramway was closed in 1951, it was the end of one chapter, and the start of quite an interesting existence. William Southern had worked for the Gateshead system for many years; latterly a Motorman, and 52 was his regular charge, and very close to his heart. 52 was bought by William complete with its truck, along with a balcony top deck and the Brill 21-E swing link six foot truck from under 45A. All were moved to his garden where in William's later years he was able to cherish his past employment. When William passed away, his family presented the tramcar to the TMS. Through the efforts of George Hearse, the tram was an early arrival at Crich, but spent a significant time stored outside. Its condition became very poor, and was robbed of many parts including its motors.

In 1963, a small group of dedicated northeast enthusiasts got together to form the “Gateshead 52 Group”, with the sole intention of restoring the tram to operational condition. It was agreed that the tram would be restored to mid thirties condition, being unvestibuled, with roof boards and with the fleet number 52. A start was made including stripping the roof in order to completely recanvass this body section. Rotten exterior metal panelling was removed and initially timbers were protected in order for any future replacements to have good patterns. All interior fittings, mirrors, sanding gear, destination boxes, brass work, seating, glass advert panels, controllers, resistance box, trolley and base were removed, and stored carefully at the newly acquired Clay Cross store.

Then, events and pressure, caused this project to be frozen whilst the team of volunteers set about changing Grimsby & Immingham 20 into Gateshead 5. No sooner had this work achieved creating a Gateshead bogie car, the team of volunteers was required to place all their time into the major restoration of Newcastle 102 completing this work in 1975.

Meanwhile the forlorn Gateshead 52 was moved to the Clay Cross store and was located next to 102 when restoration continued at this location. Quite a few components were gathered together to be used in 52's eventual restoration. Items like mirrors were resilvered and new light shades manufactured to match original samples. All new metal panels were acquired and stored, along with a complete set of new laminated glazing. I then heard about 2 years after the event, that 52 had been badly fire damaged at Clay Cross.

The possibility of restoration regardless of the fire damage has appeared very remote in the grand restoration plans of the Crich Tramway Museum, and I have on several occasions in the past encouraged consideration for a move to Beamish, where the chances of the tram running once again appear more likely. Luckily this move has now been secured through a resolution at the 2012 TMS AGM, when I attended to fully support this transfer. Beamish seems to be the only hope of 52 being restored some 70 years after the tram escaped being broken up.

Any suggestion of utilising Gateshead 52 and Gateshead 51 to make one tramcar is simply not possible. This is due to the two trams being completely different body-wise. Gateshead 51 does not have the same pedigree allegedly made from a kit of parts, having been a rebuild with unequal size smoking and non-smoking saloons and had a clerestory roof. This is the reason 51 does not have quarter lights like 52. 51 received similar vestibules and advert boards to 52 so the overall external appearance was similar, but totally different in every other respect. 52 retained its Dick Kerr DE1 Form B controllers whereas 51 has Dick Kerr DB1 controllers. The controllers from 52 appeared to have disappeared from Clay Cross storage, and were rumoured to have migrated to the group restoring Derby 1. This Derby group who restored Derby Tram number 1, were responsible for the scrapping of the unique Gateshead Brill 21-E swing link truck (used under Gateshead 45, 45A and 51 at various times) donated also by William Southern's family to the TMS for use in the restoration of 52.

For Beamish to take on Gateshead 52 as well as their Gateshead 51 would provide two trams for restoration, not a means to create one. The condition of both are sources of patterns to create new trams. All the carefully removed, restored, and new parts from 52 should still be at Clay Cross, but it is feared this may be false hope.

Author: John Henderson - September 2013. John was lead team member of the Gateshead 52 group.

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